Composers Datebook®

The Magnificent Ambersons

Composers Datebook - July 10, 2024


On today’s date in 1942, the RKO studio released the film The Magnificent Ambersons, based on Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel chronicling the declining fortunes of a wealthy Midwestern family and the massive social changes in American life caused by the arrival of the automobile.

The film was written, produced, directed and narrated by Orson Welles, who hired the great film composer Bernard Herrmann to provide the film’s score.

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. You would think Welles and Hermann would be pleased — but quite the opposite was the case. As conceived by Welles, the film ran 131 minutes, but after unfavorable reactions by a preview audience, RKO took control of the film, cut 50 minutes and rewrote and reshot a more upbeat ending. Half of Herrmann’s score was also cut, and another composer brought in for the new scenes. In disgust, Hermann asked that his name be removed from the film’s credits.

Despite RKO’s alteration of its creators’ vision, many still regard The Magnificent Ambersons, as one of the greatest films ever made, thanks to what remained of the original conception by Orson Welles and Bernard Herrmann.

Music Played in Today's Program

Bernard Hermann (1911-1975): Pleasure Trip and End Title, from The Magnificent Ambersons original film score; Australian Philharmonic; Tony Bremer, conductor; Preamble CD 1783

On This Day


  • 1835 - Polish composer and violinist Henryk Wieniawski, in Lubin

  • 1895 - German composer and music educator, Carl Orff, in Munich

  • 1933 - Broadway composer Jerry Herman, in New York City


  • 1940 - British composer and conductor Sir Donald Tovey, 64, in Edinburgh

  • 1941 - Jazz pianist and composer Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, 55, in Los Angeles

  • 1979 - American conductor of the Boston Pops, Arthur Fiedler, 84. He started the first outdoor Esplanade Concerts in Boston in 1929 and the famous Boston Pops series in 1930. In 1979, Fiedler was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

  • 1983 - German composer Werner Egk, 82, in Inning (near Munich)


  • 1733 - Handel: oratorio Athalia, in Oxford at the Sheldonian Theater, with Handel conducting from keyboard (Gregorian date: July 21)

  • 2001 - Bernstein (arr. William David Brohn): West Side Story Suite for violin and orchestra, in New York's Central Park, with soloist Joshua Bell and the New York Philharmonic, William Eddins, conducting


  • 1741 - Charles Jennens, the librettist for Handel’s oratorio Saul, writes to a friend: “Handel says he will do nothing next Winter, but I hope I shall persuade him to set another Scripture collection I have made for him, and perform it for his own benefit in passion week. I hope he will lay out his whole genius and skill upon it, that the composition may excel as his former compositions, as the subject excels every other subject. The subject is Messiah.” (Gregorian date: July 21)

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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